In September, cool nights and line storms send water temperatures dropping into the 60-degree range, even in large rivers, ponds and lakes, influencing salmonids to put on the proverbial feedbag.

The lower the thermometer drops into the 60s, the better the fishing, too.

Fast angling can kick off in Aroostook County on Labor Day weekend, but large waters in Maine’s bottom third often stay above that magic 70 degrees until mid-September, though streams and brooks get cold quicker.

My solution for action-packed excitement in early September in my region requires a two-pronged approach:

1. Drive to a more northern latitude.

2. Make sure that my target waters lie in a high elevation.

Despite these two steps to improve odds, Maine’s fall fishing can still be feast or famine, a cliche for good reason. It’s true. When angling is good now, though, it is very good — often excellent.

Fly choice can often make a huge difference in salmonid success, at least part of the time, and for fall, special flies with the right colors can make a huge difference for fooling trout and salmon. (As always, despite the time of year, bait may also work superbly on ponds and lakes, but it’s illegal now on rivers, streams and brooks.)

For flies, my selection leans toward 1. matching the hatch, 2. baitfish imitations with orange or yellow or 3. big, ugly, very dark nymphs — and I mean “big” like size 4 on an 8x long hook.

Matching the hatch now often means emergers and dry flies in various sizes from size 12 to 24 in the following patterns:

Blue-winged Olive, Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, Beadhead Caddis in rust, gray, tan, peacock herl, olive and dirty cream bodies, Elk Hair Caddis in rust, gray, tan, olive, black and cream, Soft Hackles in olive, peacock herl, gray, orange, yellow and brown and West Branch Caddis.

That’s a start, but specific hatches on some waters are not in the above selection. Veteran anglers know what works in those special places, though.

My favorite fall baitfish fly for Maine, a Ballou Special, normally imitates a spring smelt in spawning colors.

However, in flowing waters close enough to the coast for alewife runs, this marabou streamer can produce big-time because it imitates juvenile alewives, heading to the ocean this month.

The late Ai W. Ballou originated this fly in 1921, and in fact, fly-fishing historians credit this Winthrop resident as the father of the marabou streamer. It’s a great Maine baitfish pattern with a worldwide reputation.

The Ballou Special has a black head, a tail of one or two golden pheasant crests curving down, flat silver body, a sparse, red-bucktail wing base slightly longer than the tail, two white marabou feathers over the bucktail, eight to 12 peacock herl for topping and jungle-cock cheeks.

Ballou also tied two other versions of this fly — one with light blue marabou feathers and white bucktail and a second with yellow instead of white marabou and red bucktail a la the original design.

Yellow or orange produces great in fall, so a yellow Ballou Special or a version with orange marabou instead of white for the wing can keep the good times rolling.

While on the topic of orange, orange-bodied flies such as a Cardinelle or Wood Special or Joe’s Hopper with an orange instead of yellow body also attracts fall salmonids. I like bright-orange wool for the Wood Special’s body, instead of bright-orange chenille, because the wool version offers a more slender look.

Big nymphs with black or dark-brown, weighted bodies and black or grizzly palmering the length of the abdomen and thorax can also put a bend in the rod. These patterns fool salmonids when fly rodders use a variety of hook sizes, from size 4 to 8 with shank lengths from 4x to 8x.

Exact baitfish imitations like the Ballou Special to match juvenile alewives definitely have a place now, as does a Slaymaker’s Little Brook Trout on rivers and streams that have spawning brookies, Barne’s Special on flowing and still waters with yellow perch, and Blacknose Dace for waters that have this baitfish in abundance.

One word of caution for autumn:

When folks hit a water just right and the rod stays bent, it makes sense to release the catch and not think in terms of eating. We’re too close to the spawn to kill our catch.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]